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News and Information from the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association

 

Program Spotlight

Developing Programs and Resources for Youth Transitioning to Adulthood

Tara Beckman
Case Supervisor
Alameda County CASA
San Leandro, CA

In 2003, Alameda County CASA determined that it was imperative to extend our advocacy services to older youth and improve their success in transitioning to adulthood. We established a program to recruit volunteers to advocate for transitional-age youth and assist them with their emancipation needs.

Initially, the goal of the program was to serve youth 14–19 years of age. This continued to be the focus, but the priority shifted to serving youth who were closest to their emancipation. During the first few months of this project, I observed that many youth ages 17–19 were not on target to earn a high school diploma or GED and did not have any plans for housing, employment or post-secondary education. I believed that with one-on-one advocacy, CASA volunteers could support youth at a critical period in their lives and help improve these poor outcomes.

Since the inception of the program, Alameda County CASA has increased the number of older youth served by 50%. Our ongoing data collection already indicates that the program is improving the ability of emancipated foster youth to go on to successful and independent lives.

During the first year of this program, many volunteers felt overwhelmed with the complexity of the issues of older youth and became frustrated with navigating the system. To effectively advocate for this age group, we determined that volunteers required additional training, knowledge of resources for older youth and intensive case management. Alameda County CASA developed a curriculum, case-planning guides and other tools as well as enhanced supervision to provide adequate support to our volunteers.

One of the most significant new tools is our recently published Guide to Independent Living for Transitional-Age and Emancipated Foster Youth (see bit.ly/transition_guide). This publication is used by our volunteers and community partners to improve the outcomes of youth exiting the foster care system in Alameda County. The 214-page guide includes practical and easily accessible local and regional information for our volunteers as well as for transitional-age youth themselves. It spotlights information about foster youth rights, education and health resources, emancipation planning, employment preparation and resources, housing, legal services and advocacy. In addition, there is an emancipation checklist that helps youth plan for independent living.

We hope our guide will educate and empower our youth in care. Other CASA programs are welcome to use it as a model. They may also borrow some of the text if they include the credit “Adapted from Alameda County CASA’s Guide to Independent Living for Transitional-Age and Emancipated Foster Youth, copyright 2010.”

To improve supervision offered to our advocates serving older youth, we now hold monthly volunteer support groups and offer continuing education. Advocates have an opportunity to discuss cases, express concerns, share resources and provide their case supervisor with feedback and suggestions to improve the quality of supervision and support. These groups provide advocates with ongoing assistance by both program staff and their fellow volunteers.

The results of this additional training and supervision have been significant. CASA volunteers have helped extend youths’ time in foster care to allow them to continue receiving needed support, assisted with college enrollment, helped them secure housing and employment and worked with them to set and achieve realistic goals. Advocates now work closely with the youth’s support team to ensure timely completion of emancipation conferences.

In addition, volunteers are more proficient at offering assistance with completing tasks outlined in youths’ transitional independent living plans. Finally, advocates are doing a better job of ensuring that items required by state law are addressed prior to a youth’s dismissal from dependency. For example, the county welfare department is required to ensure that youth are not emancipated without vital records, housing and other needed referrals.

Emancipation preparation is a time-consuming process. Advocates can make a significant difference during this critical period by providing consistent, one-on-one adult guidance to help youth successfully navigate the system. CASA volunteers can provide youth with modeling, consistency and advocacy for accessing supportive services and preparing for independent living. By encouraging, guiding, listening to and speaking up for foster youth, we believe we can help them reach their full potential and experience a positive, productive and successful future.

 

 

The author with Duran Jefferson, 21, an alumnus of foster care who participates in the program’s Youth Speakers Bureau and on the youth panel that helps educate new volunteers

 



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